The capital of the Orkney Islands, Kirkwall is a historic town that was established as the Norse settlement of Kirkjuvagr. It’s home to a striking cathedral and palace ruins that illustrate its tumultuous past, as well as a historic distillery with Viking roots.
Things to do
Admire the 12th-century red sandstone architecture of the St. Magnus Cathedral, a grand Romanesque landmark that dominates Kirkwall’s skyline. Its soaring interior features memorials to prominent Orcadians, including the explorer William Balfour Baikie, author Edwin Muir and artist Stanley Cursiter.
Opposite the cathedral are the remains of the Bishop's Palace where King Haakon IV of Norway died in 1263, bringing an end to Norse rule over the Outer Hebrides. Wander through the adjacent ruins of the Earl's Palace, which boasts early-17th-century Renaissance turrets.
Whisky enthusiasts should tour the Highlands Park Distillery, an 18th-century landmark on the outskirts of Kirkwall. Their Viking Soul Tour includes a short film about Orkney and the distillery’s Viking roots, followed by a tour of the working distillery and a tasting of two Highland Park drams.
One of Kirkwall’s most specialised cultural institutions is the Orkney Wireless Museum, which showcases the importance of wireless communication in the islands during World War II. It houses an impressive collection of domestic and military wireless equipment, including a U boat radio and a working crystal set where you can listen to BBC Radio Scotland.
Kirkwall Airport is a 10-minute drive from the town centre and there are daily ferries to destinations throughout the Orkney Islands. Kirkwall can easily be explored on foot and is connected to other island towns and villages by buses.
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